Friday, June 29, 2007


The man in the street

Over in Lookit, Paul Hoffman wonders, along with Steven Levitt, why pollsters ask the sorts of questions they ask:

Steven Levitt asks “Is There a Point to Conducting Polls About Whether or not Sexual Orientation is Chosen?” and other good questions beyond the title: “Should I care what Americans think about this? Maybe it is an indirect reflection of general views on homosexuality and its acceptability. But if that is the point, why not ask questions that tackle that issue more directly?”

I've wondered that too, and it reminds me of something from a few years ago. After we'd bombed Afghanistan but before we'd set to work on Iraq, the local TV “news” crew set up at a major local intersection and, while the light was red, put their microphones in people's car windows and asked them whether they thought Osama Bin Laden was still alive.

My thoughts on the question were these:

  1. How on Earth would I (or any of the people they asked) know?
  2. Given that none of us has the slightest clue, why possible value could our guesses have?
  3. Can't they think of a better question?
  4. Slow news day.

Of course, had I been at that intersection and been asked the question, my response would have ensured that I would not have been on television that evening.

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